Relationship Changes as New Parents

Many couples feel a loss of connection once baby arrives, often taking them by surprise. Research has consistently shown that relationship satisfaction decreases after the birth of a child, and may continue to dip for a few months or even a few years. There are many contributing factors, especially for couples who have been together longer and are used to their dynamic being a certain way. 

Things to look out for:

  • Extreme focus on the child-mother dynamic / excluding partners.

  • Getting caught up in that ‘you don’t know what it’s like for me all day’ cycle of disconnection. 

  • The working partner staying late at work to actively avoid the at-home partner.

  • Either partner being rigid / critical / overly controlling. 

  • Not allowing the working partner to build confidence in infant caretaking. 

  • Seeing everything as a competition and keeping score. 

Things to consider:

  • Impact of sleep deprivation on both partners. 

  • The all day away from home / missing the baby developmental experience versus being home all day with baby. 

  • Identify shifts for the stay at home partner versus the partner at work. 

  • The partner at home may have a higher level of worry for the baby versus the partner at work. 

  • Putting the relationship with your partner on hold for longer than the first few months.

How to reconnect:

  • Accept this shift in the relationship as temporary. 

  • Use direct communication to ask for what you need.

  • Discuss how to negotiate this relationship change in a positive way, ideally before the baby arrives. 

  • Discuss role changes and be flexible with household responsibilities shifts. 

  • Consciously try to imagine what it’s like for the other person all day.

  • Take time to understand differences in parenting styles.

  • Spend time together connecting as a couple every day, even if brief.

  • Find ways to maintain intimacy.

Change is inevitable when you have a new baby. Above everything, remember you have the same shared goal: to be parents together and have this little family. 

The New Sibling Adjustment

Here are some ideas to help with the second child / big brother or big sister transition.

When you share the baby news with your current child during pregnancy, it can be helpful to frame it as adding to your family. Let your child know how much you and your partner wanted a family, and you were so happy to have him or her. Now you and your partner are excited again to add to your family. Express some of the complex feelings s/he may be experiencing: I imagine you may feel happy, sad, excited, angry, etc. Name whatever emotions s/he seem to be sharing.

  • Talk with your child about the logistics of what will happen when you are in the hospital: who s/he will stay with; when s/he will come visit you and meet the new baby, etc.

  • Make sure to have some solo time with your older child in the hospital when the baby is in someone else’s arms or sleeping in the newborn crib. Have him or her sit or lie with you and check in together.

  • When you get home, you won’t be able to do everything s/he wants you to do during your birth recovery, but you can do slow paced things each day with your older child like reading books or cuddling.

  • Once you are more mobile, have special outings with just your older child. When you are out remind them that only s/he can eat pizza or go on the big slide, etc., not the baby.

  • Tell him how much you love him or her and how grateful you are that s/he will always be your first baby, and how special it is that now s/he is a big sister or brother.

  • Use positive reinforcement for each time s/he does something helpful and kind with the new baby.

  • Expect some regression or acting behaviors. It's natural and this behavior is a young child's way of processing such a big family transition.

Books for kids:

Daniel Tiger: The Baby is Here
by Angela C. Santomero and Jason Fruchter

I am a Big Sister or I am a Big Brother
by Caroline Jayne Church

Books for parents:

Siblings without Rivalry
by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish